Austin’s County Limits
A change of the guard will take place next Tuesday, when District 3 county commissioner Jim Austin yields his seat to former commissioner Kit Shy who was victorious against Austin in last June’s Republican primary election.
We’re going to be sorry to see Austin go. One, he’s a very likeable and approachable kind of guy. Secondly, he brought a new vision and new ideas to the table. And thirdly, he worked hard for his constituency and accomplished much during his four-year term.
As commissioner, Austin was a driving force in landing the $3.5 million highway upgrade project still underway on Highway 69 south of Westcliffe. And because of his strong working relationship with the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Statewide Transportation Advisory Committee, he traveled twice to Washington D.C. as a guest of the National Association of Counties.
Austin certainly had his detractors. He was a true RINO: Republican In Name Only, which doesn’t bode well in our GOP-heavy county. In 2002, he ran as a Democrat against Sheriff Fred Jobe and suffered a huge loss. (Though Austin does have some law enforcement credentials: Before moving to Custer County he served as chief of police in Basalt and also had worked for the Elbert, Pitkin and our own county sheriff’s offices.)
But Austin is a true populist. He’s been involved in our local EMT corps; he’s active in various local organizations; and as a school bus driver he knows many of our school kids on a first-name basis. Perhaps not all critical issues for an elected official, but can any others make similar claims?
In recent months, he butted heads with his fellow commissioners, and as the board’s liaison to the County Airport Authority, he suffered the recent dissolution of that Authority board.
Still, Austin – and the citizens of Custer County – can be proud of his accomplishments these last four years. We’ll miss his Native American, pony-tailed swagger, and all that he did for Custer County.